In the last several articles, I’ve been considering the all-important words of Genesis 1:26-28, which read as follows:
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female He created them.28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:26-28).
Working through these verses I’ve stressed the importance of acknowledging mankind as God’s image-bearers. From this basic truth, which is repeated throughout these verses, flow three important points about such image-bearing. Understanding the imago dei is important for very practical reasons related to the Christian’s understanding of gender differences. In previous articles, we’ve seen that mankind possesses both a God created dignity (v26) and God designed diversity (v27). To see what I said regarding these important truths, you can access those articles: (Part 1), (Part 2) and (Part 3).
In this article I’d like to consider the third and final point flowing from this passage regarding the imago dei and gender differences. Our image bearing also teaches us about our God intended duty. This is seen in v28:
“And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth”.
One way to look at v28 is to identify three responsibilities God has given mankind in order to fulfill the dominion mandate. We’ll consider these separately, providing application along the way. It’s important to acknowledge from the outset that these responsibilities overlap to some degree.
The first responsibility that mankind is given by God concerns the spreading of His image throughout the earth by procreation. V28 says, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” The fulfilling of this first responsibility is impossible apart from a basic distinction between the sexes. Male and female become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24) both in holy matrimony, as well as in sexual intimacy. Today people view marriage and family as a burden, but Scripture describes it as a blessing. V28 does not say that family and children are a curse, but rather a blessing– “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth’.”
Children are not a curse, but a blessing. Slaughter houses (often referred to as abortion clinics) flow straight from a feministic agenda which says children hold women back from their goals and aspirations. But God pronounces a blessing on procreation. This is to be considered not merely an endorsement of marriage and family, but a blessing, indeed, even an encouragement. The Psalmist explicitly declares, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,the fruit of the womb a reward.Like arrows in the hand of a warriorare the children of one's youth” (Psalm 127:3-4). God blesses mankind with the awesome gift and responsibility to reproduce what He has done Himself– bringing new life into this world. The beginning chapters of Genesis are just that. They give an account of God bringing new life into the world. Day after day is marked by the production of new life, which climaxes in God’s creative work of the man in whom He intimately breathes life (Genesis 2:7). One of the most fundamental ways that mankind reflects God’s image comes through the union of man and woman in marriage and then the normal expectation that follows–bringing new life into the world through their sexual union.
Evangelical feminists use Genesis 3:16 to argue that the Fall resulted in a curse on women to bear children. But that verse does not say that childbearing is a curse. Rather, it says that because of the woman’s sin she will now have pain in childbearing. The blessing to be fruitful and multiply was given before the Fall. Therefore, if Adam and Eve were to have children before the Fall, Eve would not have had any pain in the childbearing process. But the curse for the woman was the pain she would now have in childbearing due to her sin, not childbearing itself. Childbearing was a pronounced blessing from the very beginning before the Fall.
The creation mandate to procreate is a call for parents to raise their little image-bearers to populate the earth as His representatives. What could be more rewarding and yet more demanding? Raising children to love the Lord, trust the Lord, and obey the Lord as they walk in the footprints of their godly parents is a mandate. As Christian parents, we must first preach the gospel to our children being clear with them that the image of God that they bear has been marred by sin. The image of God within them has been damaged, but not destroyed. They are still expected to live to God’s glory, but because they’ve inherited a sin nature from their father Adam they could never please God. But One came as their substitute to obey the law for sinners and die in their place, namely God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith in the Savior joins sinners–who have been declared righteous–to Christ so that through sanctification they can now be conformed to Christ’s image as they live a life of holiness by the power of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling. Therefore, the image of God, beginning with justification and then extending to sanctification and glorification results in God’s image being restored in them. So the mandate to procreate implicitly entails a mandate to evangelize the children that come from such procreation so that the image marred by sin can be restored to a perfection that resembles the Second Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ.
I Timothy 2:8-15 reveals some duties for men and women:
I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 9 likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. 11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
There is much in this text regarding the roles of men and women in the church community in general, the worship setting in particular, as well as the home. But verses 14-15 in particular have been some of the most perplexing verses for commentators to interpret. But just noting a couple of observations help us understand the importance of procreation and child rearing. First, the use of the plural pronoun “they” in v15 is a reference to all women coming after Eve. Verse 14 speaks about the first woman, Eve. But then verse 15 moves to speak about all women coming after her declaring: “she [they] will be saved through childbearing–if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” Now the question becomes, what exactly does this mean? Well, it can’t mean that a woman is saved differently than a man. It doesn’t mean that a woman is saved based upon how many children she bears. Unfortunately, there can be an undercurrent in certain Christian circles that suggests women who have more children are somehow more spiritual. Such is not what this verse is teaching. This takes us to the second observation. The phrase translated “will be saved” is a Greek word meaning “to rescue” or “deliver from”. But the word itself does not necessitate spiritual deliverance or rescue. In fact, it is used in a number of other places in Scripture where spiritual deliverance is not in view (Matt 8:25; 9:21-22; 24:22; 27:40, 42, 49; 2 Tim 4:18). In the same way, Paul is not using the word to refer to spiritual salvation here in I Timothy 2:14-15, as if women who have babies are saving themselves.
So what is Paul saying then? He’s simply saying that though the first woman (Eve) “was deceived and became a transgressor” (v14) she, along with all other women after her, can be saved through Christ who was born of a woman (cf. Gal 4:4). Through the pain of Mary’s child bearing, salvation came through the Christ child. Though the woman bears the reproach of being the first human in history to commit sin, women collectively can, through child bearing, be delivered from that blot by raising godly offspring “having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children” (I Tim 5:10).
Mothers are given a unique role by God– a role only delegated to females–which is to bear children. This creates a natural bond between mother and child resulting in an intimate and unique relationship. A godly mother uses this to her advantage as she works hard to raise her children to love the Lord. Sin came through a woman being deceived, but amazingly (perhaps we could say ironically from our perspective) salvation has miraculously come from the womb of a woman with the birth of the Christ child. And because of the gospel, a believing woman can lead her own children out of sin and into godliness.
My own mother was the first person to give devoted attention to sharing the gospel with me. I had heard it preached many times before in church and Sunday School. But it was my mother who personally showed great concern for my need of Christ’s forgiveness. She did this while I was still extremely young, well before I had started school. I vividly remember the day I asked her to explain the gospel to me in more detail. I can picture her dropping what she was doing and sitting cross-legged on the floor with me in our living room, looking me in the eyes, and going through the Scriptures with me. She explained the gospel accurately, sincerely, and simplisticly. I’m only one example of many. Timothy himself, the very man Paul addresses in regard to a woman’s faithfulness in bearing and raising children in I Timothy 2, was greatly influenced by two godly women the Lord placed in his life. In 2 Timothy 1:5, Paul reminds young Timothy, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.” Scripture teaches us that sin came into the world by a woman, but that by another woman salvation came into the world in the person of Christ who was born of the virgin Mary (cf. Gen 3:15-16).
A godly mother who fulfills her God appointed role through attentive motherhood does not feel like an oppressed victim of male domination. She knows that she fully bears in equal measure the image of God in the same way her husband does. But she also understands that as a female she reflects God’s image uniquely and differently than the husband through her God ordained role. A godly woman effectively removes (rescues/delivers) the reputation that Eve gave women through the transgression by continuing in “faith and love and holiness, with self-control” (1 Tim 2:15). That last virtue–self-control– is a mark of a truly godly woman. She patiently invests in her children with great devotion, and serves her husband with respect and submssion. She’s satisfied in her God given role. She’s restrained regarding her own personal desires. Just as the husband is to be sacrificial (Eph 5:25-29), she too recognizes that sacrifice is important. She rightly acknowledges that equality in essence does not mean identical role playing with her husband. Titus 2:3-6 is another passage emphasizing the role of the woman:
3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. 6 Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled.
The second responsibility inherent in the creation mandate of v28 is the concept of production. God tells man to “subdue” the earth. This Hebrew word (kabash) speaks of the productive ordering and arranging of the earth and its citizens to accomplish God’s purposes and then using its resources to their fullest potential to the glory of God.
Since the man is to work the ground (cf. Gen 2:15) in order to provide for his wife and children, he must do so with excellence. He must be marked by a productive spirit. Christians above all others should possess a good work ethic. But since being an image-bearer is spoken about in the context of social relationships (male and female), the man must also invest in people, not just projects. The man is to work hard at producing a godly home. He is not merely to be preoccupied with work, but also subduing (ordering and arranging) the affairs of his own household. He is to raise his children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4). He is to wash his wife with the water of the Word (Eph 5:26). It’s not the woman’s responsibility alone to nurture the children. The woman does it in a womanly way we might say, and the man in a manly way, but both father and mother have a responsibility. A man cannot nurse his child, for example. But he should show affection. He should be engaged, interested, and attentive to the children.
The woman is also to subdue her sphere. As a keeper of the home, she is to organize and arrange its affairs in a subservient role to her husband. If she works outside the home, she is to be efficient and competent enough at it so that her duties at home remain her top priority and do not suffer as a result of her outside work (cf. Prov 31). She plays a crucial role in the development of the children physically. She is particularly made for this. God has blessed the woman to subdue the children of her home.
As husband/father and wife/mother work together in the context of their home, production will flow. Children will be provided for and grow both physically and spiritually. The Word of God will be taught as the husband washes his wife with the water of the Word, and then she in turn teaches the children. The father will also directly teach the family the Scriptures in family worship and devotions. The home atmosphere will not be perfect, but it will at least have a semblance of organization, purpose, and togetherness.
The third and final responsibility in the creation mandate of v28 has to do with possessing the earth. There is a sense of ownership to work until the whole world is full of the knowledge and glory of the Lord. The same terminology of v26 is repeated in v28: “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Man is to rule and subdue creation, not worship it (Rom 1:22-24). Humans rule because they bear God’s image. The earth was made for man, not man for the earth. As each family unit procreates and produces (as described above), the dominion mandate is fulfilled.
This God created dignity as God’s image-bearers, God designed diversity as male and female, and God intended duty to subdue and fill the earth is critical instruction for the church to embrace today. As God’s new creation (2 Cor 5:17), Christians should live out the roles given in the original creation. This can only be accomplished by the indwelling power of the Spirit, discipline, prayer, and God’s abounding grace.